Frank Sinatra plays the titular Wilson, a nightclub singer who vaults to superstardom after a break from a mobster, played by Raymond Burr.
Dwarfed by co-star Alex Nicol, who plays his piano-playing manager and best friend, and swimming in his double-breasted suits, yet sporting a part that betrays his thinning hair, Frank Sinatra looks like a man-child. He spends much of the film acting like one too. He chases girls, picks fights he can’t win, and shows nary a flicker of adult emotion.
The plot sees Sinatra fall for a fellow singer played by Shelley Winters. Raymond Burr’s character is also sweet on Winters. But Winters is sweet on Nicol’s character. This proves the lone attraction that convinces, as Nicol proves the lone likable character, bailing out Sinatra over and over with nary a nod of gratitude.
That’s not to say Burr is bad in his part. He delivers the best performance of the lot, oozing a quiet menace that buries Sinatra. But Burr disappears for much of the second half, as Sinatra plays to throngs of bobby-soxers and obsesses over Winters. The film paints this obsession as romantic but it plays as egomaniacal.
Indeed, there’s little to recommend Meet Danny Wilson. Even Sinatra’s lip-synched performances feel half-hearted, as though he’d rather be doing something else. At best, the film can serve as a curiosity for Sinatra fans, as he’s playing a thin facsimile of himself.
Still seen as a bobby-soxer idol, Sinatra had yet to reinvent himself with the saloon singer image that would define his career. The film’s end shot, with Sinatra clad in a better-fitting tuxedo and playing to a sold-out theater full of adults, proves a prescient look at his future, though, at the time, no one would have believed it.